The ferry ride back to England was smooth sailing and we arrived in Portsmith around 1pm. We headed to Weymouth to drop a couple of bags of our gear off with Michaela and stayed the night. The traffic was dreadful and we could see miles of traffic jams in all directions in the small stretch we travelled. People here blamed holiday traffic, but we didn’t think there were many vehicles that looked like they were on a holiday jaunt.
After a lovely walk downtown in the morning along with brunch we headed off to Horsham. I had to pick up medication from a pharmacy there. We stayed the night at our favourite old campsite in Slinfold as we were quite late to be going any further north. In the morning we consulted a mechanic we had gone to a few times about the vans performance but was difficult without him spending time on it.
It is Wednesday and we headed north as we have a classic bike meeting to get to in Donington for Scot to see from Thursday. It was raining and cold – great for summer! but that wasn’t the issue. On the M25 in typical fashion there was a bad accident or accidents and we were stopped for a long time. We should have been able to travel the 150 miles we were going in around 3 hours but it took us about 8 hours. Unbelievable. After having nothing but smooth flowing traffic, immaculate roads and no hassles in France for over 2 months this was really irritating and we will really be glad to leave England. It is overcrowded and the roads are some of the worst in any of the 28 countries we have travelled in Europe. We think they have huge problems here and I really don’t know how anyone has a life as most of it would be spent travelling to and from work in horrendous traffic. At one point Scot went back onto the bed in the back and read for a while since the engine was off and we had nowhere to go. And at least we had a loo on board!
I hadn’t pinpointed anywhere to stay for the night so when we were in a likely area I looked up a small farm site. We drove there along really narrow laneways, but when arriving it was heavily padlocked and there wasn’t anyone around. I hate that. So we found a clubsite to stay and arrived there to settle for the night. The problem with a motorhome in England as there are very few places you can stop on the side of the road to free camp, so often there is no choice but to find a club or camp site to stop on. We left the next morning after dismantling the bed and cleaning the van as we had a couple of fellows wanting to see the van to buy it in this area. I put the van on the market on a facebook website dedicated to motorhome sales as I hope there will be less scammers on it since it is a secure site. We stopped in a service centre/fuel stop near Nottingham and the first fellow came to see it but I think he wanted to buy it to resell on. Then we headed off to see the 2nd guy after he finished work at 5.30. After about 10 minutes of chatting he said he would buy the van. We are glad we now have a buyer and we will finish our last few weeks in Scotland, travel down to Wales and then drop the van off to him. We were feeling very relieved to say the least. Now we can concentrate on what we have left to do.
Leaving this fellow we headed to a hotel site right next door to Donington races as they have a large camping area as well. Not bad value with all facilities for only 22pound a night. It was nearly 9pm so we celebrated our van sale with dinner and a drink at the hotel.
Donington classic bike races was on the whole weekend. I won’t go into detail although Scot would but essentially it is the probably the largest collection of old classic bikes and side cars in the world and they not only show them, they race them. We found the kiwi team amongst many other country’s teams and what do you know my brothers business Aliweld sponsor them. All quite amazing really. We had sun the first day and rain the 2nd which was a shame, but we say enough for Scot to come away happy. We stayed until Saturday lunchtime when we had to leave as we had a house sit back in Wayboys looking after Buddy and Mini Moo Mouse whom we have looked after twice already. Buddy is like Freddy’s twin, they are so alike it’s uncanny. We have been here in Warboys for a week and we leave on Tuesday morning 15th August coming up and head up to Scotland. Next blog update will be a bit later on since we will be doing very hard travelling each day through Scotland. Forecast for the next 2 weeks RAIN, RAIN AND MORE RAIN 🙁 TEMP 11deg to 17deg maybe warm for Scotland….lol.
On the 26th we will be at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo – for my dearest Mother. I know she will be with us in spirit.
We have made the difficult decision to leave the UK and go home, so we resign from our jobs the day after we get back from holiday. The standard notice here is one month, which will mean we have been working here for only a little over 9 months. It hasnt been a decision made lightly and there are many reasons. Upon reflection it perhaps was the best final month as we had several short weeks with which to get used to the idea and decide on our plan of attack.
The weekend following our return from Malta, we decide to go away for a weekend in the van. A lot of campsites arent even open yet, but we find one near Winchester and head there on the Saturday morning. We havent been anywhere in the van for a few months and we need to see if things are still ok. On setting up at the site, Scot opens the side storage locker only to have the strutt side hinges snap. That isnt good as it is near impossible to get parts for a van even this old. Then we find that the bathroom tap appears to be spurting water and not from the spout. The spout join has corroded so we have to keep the pump off whilst here now. On the Sunday we find that the tap on the fresh water outlet is leaking badly and we are losing water. This is life in a van. Winter is never kind to them here and they arent good sitting for any length of time. It is a good shake down though so now we have some work to do to find parts. The next weekend is Easter so i get searching the internet for parts and have most ordered and arrived before Easter hits.
We have been offered a house sit down in Brighton for Easter looking after 2 dogs. Although we said we wouldnt look after dogs again, we figure its only 4 days and the owner has said that Lola and Jimmy are very well behaved dogs. On the Thursday before Good Friday i get a call from my GP’s office to say they need to see me that day about an xray i had done on Tuesday. This is when i find out my bone is broken in my foot. No plaster though, they say try to stay off it and walk with solid base shoes if necessary. And we are looking after 2 dogs needing walking and we wanted to see more of Brighton, bad timing!
Needless to say we did walk the dogs and they were just adorable and very well behaved. Exploring Brighton didnt really happen, but we saw a little. It was a nice break away.
The following weekend we got to, with all the parts ordered and set to, to fix the vans broken bits. The universe works in wonderful ways, since we had very few tools, this place we were staying in was also a base for a removal company the owners ran. So there was plenty of parking space for the van and Norman had a multitude of tools he could lend us to get the job done. I had even devised a way of fixing our 2 year old broken hinge that was no longer available anywhere. We worked all weekend to replace the bathroom tap, put a new fresh water tap on, fit a new hinge to the storage locker and dummy up a new hinge for our door and screen. We had to do a couple of adjustments to the bathroom piping as water was seeping a bit but we managed to get a joiner the following weekend and it is fine now. The hinges are brilliant and i am quite chuffed to have worked out a way to fix them when new ones arent available. The van is fit for habitation and hope all goes well with our check coming up in a week.
The owners of The Farm and Boris approach us to sit over summer but we tell them that unfortunately we wont be here and they ask us to sit for a final week early May which fits quite nicely.
It is quite strange for us leaving here when we are just starting to make friends and just starting to feel like part of the community. We go to a local gathering at Lyne house near Rusper which is an old historic house that has been made into apartments so that it can be kept maintained. The Morris dancers have been going there on this particular weekend every year for over 45 years. All the locals come along and bring a plate and drink to share and we join in the festivities. Scot even joined the Morris dancers for their final dance of the day. Lyne House was part of the Broadwood Estate for many centuries. The Broadwoods made exclusive pianos for centuries to people like Chopin among many others, so this house is steeped in history.
Our final week and we join in with the locals watching a community screening of the movie Sully which is very good. We feel like the local teenagers as everyone at the community hall is much much older than us. On our last day of work we both say goodbye to our work colleagues. I get a beautiful gift to remember them by and Scot gets shouted beers all night – how appropriate. It still seems strange and i am not sure how i feel about it all. In a lot of ways it is sad as there are so many things i had planned. It was going to be incredibly difficult though to stay. We had to save about £10,000 to get a place to live and one of our wages would have been taken by rent and utilities alone. That would mean that plans to do all the many things would never have happened defeating the whole purpose of being here.
We are at the farm for our last few days and here we get ourselves sorted out and packed back up in our only home here, the motorhome Morrie. We have decided to head to France as it is cheap and we never saw much when in our van. We have saved enough to do some more travelling before coming home so plan our next move.
Once we leave the farm on the Wednesday we head to our favourite little camp ground in Slinfold for one night. We need to charge the van, test out all our fixes and relax. It has been a bit of a stressful month one way and another. The next day we head to a tiny village called Englefield. I believe this is where my family originated. It is just to the west of Reading. There is a magnificent estate called Englefield House and a church nearby called Englefield church of St Marks. The house belonged to Sir Francis Englefield until the late 1500’s when he had it taken from him by Queen Elizabeth 1st. This was due to the belief that Sir Francis was part of a group comspiring to de-throne Elizabeth and have Mary the catholic put on the throne instead. The grounds are huge and they have many deer wandering freely. When we tried to take photos i was politely told to leave the property as i was trespassing on private property. We found out that Pippa Middleton was getting married in the church in 2 weeks so there was a lot of suspicion of strangers there. We left there after lunch and headed down to the new forest which we believe is lovely. In this area there are wild horses and deer that roam freely. Houses have an animal grate on their driveways so the horses dont come onto their property. It is amazing to see the animals just wandering where ever they want to go.
Friday we head to Weymouth to spend our last couple of nights with Michaela and Mick before we catch the ferry to France. We have a lot of laughs and enjoy our time here and then its time to head off. Sunday we drive the 2 hours to Portsmith and await our ferry.
More photos will come later. We have no power in France and it is difficult to upload photos from cameras and phones.
It is difficult to settle down into work again after such an amazing holiday but it has to be done. 2 weeks into January we pack up at Firewood farm and we go back to The Farm to house sit and look after Boris. This time it is for 8 weeks. We enjoy it here and Boris is a delight. Over our time here he has become less and less aloof and now loves to sit on my knee at night while we watch a movie or some tv. Whilst house sitting we don’t go anywhere as we really need to be around the house all the time. So for the next 8 weeks we pretty much stay at home, apart from our swim at the club daily, Scots spin once a week and doing puzzles on weekends and generally just enjoying our time at the farm. I have a group of girl friends that get together once a month and go out to dinner to a different restaurant each time. So I get to try a number of different places around Horsham town. We also have lunch at the club with a couple we met at Slinfold campground which is so nice to catch up.
Of course I have to start planning our next holiday as there always has to be something to look forward to, so we start looking at what we can do. Initially I had wanted to go to Malta, but a lot of places are already booked out for April and so we figure maybe we should just get in the van and go to Wales, so that is what we plan.
Early March and what we believe is our final house sit at the farm is over and we have found a lovely place to rent a room in. It is an old BnB where they no longer do the BnB thing, but rent the rooms out instead. So we move into a lovely room with an ensuite. There are 2 other rooms rented and the couple have 2 teenage sons who board at school but come home from time to time. It is in a lovely rural location – we are getting quite used to living out in the countryside. So sadly say farewell to Boris. We work out that we have spent 5 months of the last 11 months living in this house so it almost feels like home.
I have a friend I chat to at the pool and she had just come back from Malta and tells me all about it and how cheap it was and how you get the cheap packages. So, that night I go online and find out that we can do an 8 day holiday in Malta for 210gbp each which includes airfares, accommodation, breakfast and dinner plus hotel transfers. So, Wales is thrown out the window and I book our holiday at the end of March for Malta. Now we are excited as this will be our 29th country and I have wanted to go to Malta since I was a little kid. Friends of the family used to spend a lot of their holidays there.
The day after my birthday we head off on the plane. Thompsons are a very good organised company and they have their own planes. The flight is about 3.5 hours, about the same from Aussie to NZ. We land and are directed to our bus that will take us to our hotel. We are staying at the Mellieha Bay Hotel which is quite near the ferry that goes to Gozo, but on the bus route, so that all buses will get us into Valletta or other places on the way. The bus ride is about ¾ of an hour. It is about 8pm when we get there and we check in along with the other 40 odd people on the bus. All rooms in this hotel look over the bay. The room consists of 2 single beds – they all have this but we push them together and hope neither one of us falls into the middle – a fridge, tv, bathroom of course and a balcony with a wonderful view. It isn’t 5 star but is quite comfortable and we won’t be spending much time in it anyway. We head down to dinner which is a huge buffet style with lots of choice.
We decide to walk up to Mellieha the next day which is about a 5km walk up the hill. It was quite a walk up the hillside to the top. We stopped on the way for a coffee and snack. It was quite a warm day as well. On our way back down the hill my foot started to hurt quite badly but I had no idea what was wrong. By the time we got back to the hotel, I could hardly walk and when I looked at it, it had swollen badly in the top middle. I put my foot up and we sat and read until dinner time. Dinner was anytime you wanted to front up to the restaurant up until 9.30pm. Every night was slightly different and you could get a carafe of wine for 3euro to have with your meal. We could have bought all inclusive but I didn’t think it was worth it as alcohol wasn’t that expensive and we didn’t want to be beholden to drinking and staying for lunch at the hotel.
The next day we decided to get the ferry to Gozo and visit Xlendi (pronounced Shlendi). We were within a couple of kms walking distance but my foot was badly swollen and very painful so we caught the bus. The bus only cost 1.50euro for up to 2 hours travel which was so cheap. The ferry across to Gozo was only 4.50euro each return also incredibly cheap. We met a fellow on there who was with his dog and what a small world. He had sailed with Scot’s boss back in Australia at CG. He said he wouldn’t mind exchanging houses so we gladly gave him our email address, so we hope he contacts us as we would love to go back. We caught another bus after getting off the ferry but there were a lot of people around and we found that if you didn’t push in and try to get on a bus like everyone else, you never got on. So we had to join in and push our way amongst the crowds to get on. Victoria is the main town on Gozo and we took another bus from there to Xlendi. This was where we believed some of the filming was done for By the Sea movie with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. What a stunning place and it was a magnificent day. We head to a little café that Christian on the ferry recommended and order a drink and a pizza for lunch. I am getting a little worried about my foot and although it doesn’t seem like DVT we can’t figure out what else could be wrong.
We sit in the sun and decide we will go for a swim as the water is calm and beautiful, but this is thwarted by us talking to another British couple who are living in Malta and trying to get their own App up and running. We end up chatting to them until about 4.30 when we decide we need to head back to the bus stop and back to the hotel. These remote places only have a bus going every hour so it is a long wait if you miss it. Although the couple we have been drinking with have offered us a lift, he has had more than a few wines and we aren’t comfortable with him driving us, even though he says everyone drives after drinking there. Our bus isn’t long and we get back into Victoria to catch the next bus down to the ferry. Everyone in Malta speaks English as it is taught in school from a very young age so getting information is really easy and most things are written in English. We get the ferry back to the port and then a bus over the hill back to the hotel. We sit on our balcony admiring the view and watching the action on the water. There is a miniature yacht racing convention on here and they are all racing off the little jetty in front of the hotel. There are reps from a lot of European countries as they all have their flags flying. Dinner is the usual buffet with a variety of food available.
The next day – Friday turns out to be a holiday here in Malta and although we have been warned it will be busy we still decide we want to go back to Gozo to see more places, so we head off reasonably early to try and beat the crowds, but the bus gets to the top of the hill and we can see the next 2kms in front of us is a solid traffic jam. The driver tells us all that if we want to catch the next ferry we will have to walk as he won’t get there in time. So off we go, half running, hobbling down the hill past all the banked up cars waiting to get on the ferry. When we get to the terminal and walk in we realise that this was a very stupid idea. Half the country is trying to get across to Gozo and it is just crazy. So we decide it may be best to stay at the hotel today and avoid the craziness. We catch a bus back to the hotel and position ourselves down on the little beach in front of our room. The water although a little cool to start with is very refreshing and we enjoy a couple of swims. The water is crystal clear. Nearby the hotel is a camper site and during the day many campervans have turned up and it is quite full. It is a lovely place to stop up for a few days overlooking the bay.
We enjoy a peaceful quiet day sitting here reading and swimming until later in the day. I am still in agony with my foot so after consulting the rep from Thompsons we decide to get to a local doctor in the morning. We sit around the pool for the last part of the day but the wind is up and it is a little cool so we head for our room.
The next morning we take a bus up to Mellieha where the doctors have their rooms in the pharmacy and you just wait your turn in the queue. The GP is lovely and assures me i dont have DVT but isnt sure what the problem is exactly. (We find out a week after returning from Malta that i have broken my 2nd metatarsal bone in my foot although we have no idea how). I am relieved it isnt DVT so we decide to head back to the ferry and over to Gozo. We want to see the small village on the other side of the island Malsaforn. We take the bus to the ferry and catch it across to Gozo. Not so many people around today as they will all be at their destination already. From Victoria we take the bus to Malsaforn. Another lovey place with crystal clear waters and not so many people about. We have a wander and stop at a little cafe with outside seating. We feel we need a dose of Vit D from the sun as we are both very pale and pimply from no sun for months. After lunch we continue to wander but i am spoiling things not being able to go as far as we normally would. Probably just as well i didnt know i had a broken bone or we may not have done any walking at all. It is funny here as you see many apartments that have the shell built but they may have only finished one and someone is living in it and the rest are for sale. So people may live in a potential building site for months or years before it is all completed. We love this place as much as Xlendi although it is a bit larger. Late in the day we head back to the hotel for a sit on the balcony and a drink before dinner again.
Sunday is market day. We decide we wont do the Thompson tour to the market and we head off on the bus to Marsaxlokk. We have to change at Valetta and it appears that again half the population are all trying to get there as the bus queues are huge. You cant be shy here either or you will never get on a bus as everyone just pushes and shoves to get on. Its not my favourite thing about here but it cant be helped as buses are the easy option. The market is mostly fresh food, fish with some souvenirs and occassional chintzy rubbish. It is packed and slow going which is great for me. There isnt much for us to buy but it is interesting looking at local produce. It is the start of strawberry season so we buy some and they are lovely. On our way back through the market we stop for a coffee at one of the many cafes. Coffee and cake for less than 5 euro, not bad at all. It starts to rain as we leave the market and i think many others have decided to go as well as the bus stop is crowded. After not being able to get on a couple of buses because we just werent pushy enough, we walk to the previous stop to get on first and this works well. We then get off in Valetta and decide to have a quick look around before our next bus back to the hotel. We are delighted with what we see but there isnt the time to spend here unfortunately so we head back on the bus to the hotel. Scot wants to see the red tower up from the hotel and i just cant walk another step, so he goes off to wander and explore the countryside. Near the red tower on the hill he comes across what appears to be a derelict resort where it isnt clear if it ever got finished or if it has just fallen into disrepair. Close by here is the village they built for the Popeye film from the mid 80’s that starred Robin Williams. We dont have the time, but it looks quite cool from the pictures we have seen and is now a popular tourist attraction although more for the kids we think.
Monday and we decide our last full day has to be on Gozo again. We head over to Xlendi where we hope we can have a swim this time. Unfortunately for us the wind has got up and this side of the island is too windy to swim so we decide Malsaforn is the best place to be today. There are numerous other locations we wanted to go but with distance walking ruled out they will have to wait until another day. We did want to see the famous place with the hole in the rock, but unfortunately the bridge of the rock was washed away only a few weeks ago by severe weather. This is a shame they have lost one major touristy location. Malsaforn is not as windy and we enjoy a day in the sun. Scot braves another swim which i would have enjoyed but havent mastered the art of changing discretely on a beach with many people looking on. Scot doesnt give a shit and just down trou’s anywhere like we have seen the Germans doing most places. After an enjoyable day, a cider on the beach we head back. Our last night and we wish we had another week to explore.
Our final day, we head on the bus over to Saint Pauls Bay to post some cards and check out the area. It just isnt the same when you cant walk the distance so we give it up as a bad joke and catch the bus back to Mellieha where we stop for a pizza lunch and a coffee. Our bus back to the airport leaves about 4.30, so we head back to the hotel to pack our bags and await the bus. What a great place to holiday. Lots of nature walks to do, lots to see, history and nice food. I hope we get back here to see and do more. Our plane gets into Gatwick about 9.30pm, we get home about 11pm and it is up earlyish for work the next morning 😣 and reality again.
Unfortunately i cant put captions on the below photos at this point as i am doing it via the tablet which wont let me caption them
We begin our Norwegian journey in Bergen. We flew from Munich via Copenhagen to Bergen. We were a little late arriving and didn’t get to our hotel until about 11.30pm which was a great shame as our room was lovely and we were right on the waterfront in a perfect location. Breakfast was divine so we wish we could have stayed longer. It is strange being back here as I am sure when we left in 2015 we would have thought we wouldn’t be back. Winter hasn’t really descended upon this part of Norway yet and the temperature is still reasonable in the single digits.
After a reasonable sleep and a great breakfast we pack up our gear, store it in the luggage room and head out to check out Bergen for a couple of hours. We don’t check in to the Hurtigruten Cruise terminal until mid to late afternoon so we go for a wander. I spy a necklace from a German designer I saw when we were in Norway last and at the time I would have loved to buy one so we check it out. It is Coeur de Lion designer and only cosmetic jewellery but quite stunning and colourful. Since Scot still hasn’t bought me a 50th Birthday present this seems like the ideal gift especially since we can claim back the tax when we leave.
A lot of shops are closed for the season which I guess you can expect this as there are only a few more shopping days until Christmas. As we wander around I remember I haven’t got any sea sick tablets – just on the off chance we strike rough waters. It doesn’t take much to get seasick and I don’t want to spoil my holiday if it happens, so we find a chemist and make our purchase. We search for a café for a coffee but as we look around I don’t remember Bergen being so expensive for just a cuppa. Perhaps we didn’t buy much last time here but the average price is aud$10 for a coffee which I do not remember paying. But you can’t live your holiday constantly comparing prices (although I find that difficult not to) so we have a drink and watch as the rain comes down. We eventually head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the cruise terminal. The ship is late as the crossing has been rough so we check in a bit late. We get our cabin key cards and information and head on to board. We are on deck 3 which turns out to be a better one than we thought. The layout of the ship is very similar to vehicle ferries we have taken throughout Europe only it has been recently refurbished from what I have read. The ship is called the Richard With – this is the name of the founder of the Hurtigruten ships and is pronounced Rikard Wit.
We organise our stuff and empty our suitcases (although they have lost Scot’s and we are panicking a bit as we are about to leave port and Scot is having horror visions of his bag being left behind with the Jamesons and Baileys in it bugger the clothes. However after much persistence we finally ask them to check room 332-we are in 323- and yes they have put it into an empty room. Whew) since this will be our room for the next 7 days. We have 2 bunk style single beds which turn out to be really comfortable. Our port hole is right near the gangway so we see all the activity in port. Dinner is buffet style which starts as soon as we are on the ship. The food is abundant and there is something for everyone. The food is delicious and I can see the kilos piling on, on this trip if it is like this every day! We head out of Bergen around 11pm and we head up on deck to watch Bergen fade into the distance. It is cold on deck so we don’t stay too long and there is going to be so much to do so we head to our cabin. We are advised that the sea is going to be rough so I take a seasick tablet just to be on the safe side. I actually take one each day as we have a small piece of open sea each day of our travels. It is reasonably soothing rocking in the ship but every now and then there is a huge wave and I can see it splashing up against our window. I am quite glad we are down low in the ship so not as much rolling as other cabins.
This fleet of eleven Hurtigruten ships(sailing since early 1900’s) are essentially the main lifeline up the west coast of Norway. They call into about 40 different ports(all ships calling into each port every 12 hours so very tight shedules) on their way up and on their way back. They take mail, cars, people and any other deliveries necessary to each of the ports they call into. They take cruise passengers as a sideline really to make extra money. It is not your standard cruise ship – they do not have activities on board other than a few board games and the odd event like the crossing of the arctic circle so you really have to amuse yourself the whole time. They have excursions in some of the ports they stop in which are optional. You can get off in any of the ports they stop in, but they have an incredibly strict policy – if you are not on board 5 minutes before they leave port you will be left behind and you will have to find your own way to the next port to get back on. They say there is always one person each trip that has to take a taxi or whatever to get to the next place due to missing the ship. The fact that the ship doesn’t have any activities is of more interest to me as that means we can relax, watch the scenery, meet other people and read when it gets too dark for that.
Because our cabin is right by the gangway I tend to wake up at each port – mostly because I want to see where we are but also because our curtains are never closed and the lights shine in. It is a little sleep depriving but I don’t want to miss anything. The ship also has an alert system where you get told when the northern lights are showing so you can get up in the middle of the night if you want to see them.
Our first day and we stop in the major port of Alesund which is an art nouveau town. It burnt to the ground in the early 1900’s and was completely rebuilt in this style. It is quite a stunning town to walk around. We have booked onto the excursion of an art nouveau walk around town which is very informative and interesting. The only thing that spoils it is a single whinging female whom lives in Zurich but is from Armenia. She is complaining all the time about there being no snow and it is sleeting as we walk around the town and she is getting wet (Oh dear that’s so dreadful). She gets really shitty with the tour operator because of the lack of snow – like he made sure there was none when she arrived ……wtf?? I have said before we leave that yes if we don’t get snow, see the northern lights or get to do the dog sledding then that is a bummer but it won’t spoil my trip – stuff happens and you can’t change that. Anyway part way through she huffs off back to the ship with her rather elderly (and probably rich) husband. We enjoy the rest of the town walk and head back ourselves.
We head off out of port. As I mentioned there is no snow here yet. Due to global warming, Norway does not get the snow they would have in December anymore. They have to wait until later in January until it arrives. The scenery is lovely around the many islands we cruise amongst. There is snow at a higher level though which keeps the chill in the air. Our daylight hours aren’t too bad in this part of Norway since we are below the arctic circle. Once we get above it, we will get down to a couple hours of partial daylight. Most of the rest of this day is spent watching the scenery, reading or eating. You have a fixed table at dinner time and that is the number you sit at every night. Plus you have a set time to eat and you can’t eat any earlier or later. Our table has 2 other couples whom both live in Brisbane – of all places. One couple comes from Christchurch originally though. Our dinner time is 8.30pm though which makes it quite late and we are hungry waiting for that time to come.
Our 2nd day – 23rd of Dec – our port is Trondheim. Again there is not snow here but we leave the ship and have a walk around the town for a bit. I am now paranoid enough about missing the ship that we get back with more than enough time to spare. I couldn’t afford the taxi fare(or helicopter!) to the next port! Trondheim is a nice city, but not a patch on Aresund in terms of architecture. Everything is closed as well so there isn’t a lot to see within a short walking distance. Everyone back on board and we head back out of port.
When boarding the ship we had a choice to get a wine package or a beer package which if bought provides you one bottle of wine each day to have with lunch and/or dinner. The package costs 3000Norweigan Kroner which is about Aud$600. That equates to 6 bottles of wine in total costing $100aud or 60gpb each. I would say they are probably $15/8gbp store bottles in Aussie. We decline this offer as the cost is prohibitive but also wine seems to cause me horrendous headaches as of about 3 months ago so no point me having any. We did however bring in our suitcases 2 bottles of bubbly, 1 bottle of jamesons and 1 bottle of baileys, plus a 6 pack of beer. They are ok with this providing you drink it in your cabin which we mostly did. There is a water package as well which was 50 pounds each which entitles you to 2 small bottles of water each day. The tap water is drinkable(plus we have our valuable water filtering bottles) and you can have this at meals too, so we declined that as well. I thought long and hard about what to take on this trip that may be necessary and make it less expensive. So I packed packet soups, tea, hot chocolate, coffee, uhf milk and I bought one of those single cup water heaters which we used to heat the water up. It was invaluable and saves us a lot of unnecessary expense on cups of tea etc. We did have small presents of chocolate for each other as Chrissy presents so they can in handy too.
In Europe they celebrate Christmas Eve and not Christmas day. On Christmas Eve they swap presents, have a celebratory meal and do the church service thing. So on the next day we headed into Bodo. We are now over the Arctic Circle and there is snow on the ground in Bodo as well as lots more on the islands we pass. The daylight hours go from semi normal hours to partial daylight from about 10.30 until about 1-1.30pm. It is dark after that. When we arrive in Bodo – it is Christmas Eve, but early in the afternoon. Since it is snowing, we gear up, put our waterproof trousers on, our snow boots plus warm stuff. We walk into town, throwing snowballs at each other and laughing so much. It is so much fun and the fairy lights reflecting off the now gives it a magical feeling and I feel like a kid again. I can’t get the smile off my face! The town is mostly closed but is so cool. They have a way with their lights, they’re awesome. I spot a camperbus parked in the town and they have a Santa sitting in the driver seat – very cool. We head back to the ship as they are doing a walk up to the church later for the afternoon service. Although we are not religious and wouldn’t normally go, we do like to participate in events like this and experience another country’s culture especially at Christmas. About half the ship 150 people left and walked together with lit fire torches through the town to the church – I am sure the town folk wondered what was going on. The service was great – lots of singing Christmas songs and a lovely choir, we both really enjoyed it. Then we all head back to the ship for dinner and leaving port. I am still excited by the snow – it’s awesome.
That night we join a few other guests and spend a few hours making xmas tree decorations from craft materials and everyone made some really cool ones. Then we all helped decorate the tree with lots of others watching. It turned out looking fantastic and colourful – what a great idea from the entertainment director – and a great way to bring people from different countries together. We met one lady who works in Afghanistan so got to know her during the cruise which does enrichen the experience.
Xmas Eve we all sang songs around the tree in English, German & Norwegian very cultural when you have different countries celebrating xmas.
The next day is Christmas day – the one I have been looking forward to the most. The scenery where we are is stunning, with snow everywhere on all islands and the lights on and in the houses reflects off it making it fairy tale like and magical. The ship has it’s ‘crossing the arctic circle’ ceremony which entails putting ice cubes down your back and then entitles you to an alcohol shot of schnapps or similar. Scot participates but I need to photograph it so am forced to stay on the sideline….lol. Not sure whether the wet arse was worth the Scnapps though.
We arrive in Tromso just after lunch and there is heavy snow and it seems like the clouds are dispersing which is a great sign for possible northern light sighting. We take the bus from the ship and head inland to where the huskies are. Tromso hasn’t been so fortunate the last week having lots of rain which washed all the snow away, so most tour operators weren’t able to run. Our very good fortune, it started to snow again and settle 2 days ago, so now we have enough for the sledding. This husky place has 300 dogs. They all start to bark at once which is a huge racket and they are unbelievably friendly. The staff encourage pats and cuddles as the dogs love it. When we arrive the sleighs are all harnessed up and we are each shown our sled with it’s 8 dogs – 2 people to each. These dogs live to do this, they absolutely love it and they are so competitive, they try to pass each other. It is such a huge sport here. The ride is awesome. The dogs are funny – the two in the front are female leaders – smarter than the others and know where to go just by voice commands. The last two are the strongest males who take a lot of the weight of the sleigh. The dogs grab mouthfuls of snow as they run along when they get thirsty – this is a natural way of them getting water. I had started to feel it a little cruel, but when you see the dogs chafing at the bit to take off and run you realise that they adore what they do. This was such an amazing experience, I could have had a second go. After our ride we got to pat as many of the dogs as we wanted, they were all straining for attention at their respective kennels. They are such adorable dogs. After everyone has had a coffee & cake in the traditional wooden huts and bought souvenir’s we are finished and we head back to the ship.
After dinner – which because it is Christmas was supposed to be special, but turns out to be the worst meal they have put on strangely. Because we are the last ones to eat, we often miss out on some of the food they put out – like all the lobster and crab was gone. They did put on a ‘Cake Buffet’ though which we partook in prior to dinner or we would have missed out. It was delicious. I think desert should always be first so you aren’t too full from the main meal. After dinner, we headed out onto deck to watch us leaving Tromso as we will be back here in a couple of days. The sky has cleared and all of a sudden we start to see the Northern lights. All I can say is WOW, WOW and WOW!!! Strangely though, our naked eye cannot see the colours that our cameras pick up, but we see a white misty- like movement in the sky which all I can say is the most amazing spectacle. It looks a bit like smoke but it moves in the most incredible way. Difficult to describe and it would have been more spectacular if we were in a quiet countryside location watching it as we would have heard the noise of it rather than the ships engines. I got some photos but they don’t do it justice because my camera is a shitty one without any lenses. We are both in tears watching it as the experience is so amazing. We wait until there is nothing more to see before we head back inside to bed. I am so keyed up I can’t sleep. At around 2am, I get dressed and head back up on deck. There are small pockets of the northern lights but nothing like we saw so I head back to bed. I am woken again about 3.30am (not sure if I actually got to sleep though) with a speaker announcement that the northern lights are showing again, so we both get dressed as fast as we can because they can disappear as quick as they appear, and head back on deck. There are more shows but again nothing like we saw earlier, so we head back to bed.
The next day we are travelling around the very top of Norway and after breakfast we stop in a location called Honningsvag. From here we have an excursion to the North Cape. There are 3 busloads of us going from the ship, one German and 2 English speaking busses. The guide on the bus explains about the countryside we travel through on the way to the Northern most point of the civilised European continent. The surrounds are snow covered and the roads are too. The winter tyres here are amazing. They are a slightly softer material than the summer tyres and they have rubber spikes on them that help grip in the snow. The bus is travelling at normal speed on a snow laden road which surprises me. I haven’t seen or experienced winter tyres before. It takes us a good ¾ of an hour to get to the North Cape. There isn’t as much snow as I expected there to be here but there is still a bit. Lucky we have snow boots. There is a visitor centre that show a movie on the Northern lights and souvenirs etc. To the north is nothing but ocean until you get to the North Pole. This is a very isolated place.
We have had it drummed into us on the ship that if we are late back to the ship it will be gone, so on these excursions you don’t mess around and miss the boat. Scot goes to see the movie about 40 minutes before we are due to leave and I am waiting upstairs so we can get to the bus on time, but I end up in a mad panic when by the time I thought the movie should have finished, he doesn’t show. The theatre is 4 floors below and there are 2 ways to go upstairs. I race down one way hoping he isn’t going up the other way and even enlist help from other passengers we have gotten to know. I am getting really uptight with about 5 minutes to go and am imagining us having to taxi all the way to the next town when Scot shows up (I only went to the bloody toilet there was at least 45 seconds left ). I am so panicked that I am angry. It costs a huge amount to get a taxi here in Norway. Anyway we get back on the bus and all is well and I eventually calm down. I imagine the countryside in this part would be quite barren and bland if it wasn’t so pretty with all the snow around. I doubt much will grow on this type of countryside. Back on the ship and of course it is dark by the time we get there. There are more northern lights showing today but still not as impressive as Christmas day but they are showing for a couple of hours. I stand on deck watching, essentially freezing my butt off as I am standing there for such a long time. On deck they bring out two giant crabs from the Northern Ocean and large they are indeed. They also have a large urn of hot soup that they dish up to all those up on deck which is lovely.
I have to say that on the whole the food was lovely on the ship. It was only on Christmas day and one of the set menu meals that weren’t that fantastic, but all other food was lovely. We had a lot of salmon of course and it was so delicious. One night I think I filled my plate with baked salmon because it was so nice, I just couldn’t help it. Of course there was also lamb and beef amongst lots of other things.
So the final night on board and we are both sad to think it has ended. It is now that I wish we had booked the return cruise back to Bergen as a lot of people on the ship have. I thought it would just be stopping at the same ports, but they stop at ports at different times and so you get to see a whole lot of different places – ones we had stopped at during the night. We have to have our suitcases packed and out at the lifts by midnight as they take them outside for you in the morning when you leave the ship. So packed up we are, only our clothes for the morning still with us. In the morning we have to be out of our cabins by 8am and off the ship when we dock at Kirkenes at 9. So we get ourselves dressed, packed and out by 8 to the restaurant to have breakfast before we leave the ship. We have booked an extra excursion today as I believe there isn’t enough to do in Kirkenes to keep us occupied for the entire day. So after our final breakfast on the ship we head off and onto the bus that will take us to the Russian border. The bus takes us to a bomb shelter at Kirkenes and play us a movie about the war and the people of this town. The whole town survives by hiding in a mine for 2-3 months not far from the town for a period of time. It is amazing. Then we head to the border. Russia and Kirkenes have an arrangement – they can each cross over the border and get things they want without any visa for a short period of time. If Norwegians want to avoid paying tax when crossing back they need to stay in Russia for 24 hours and there is no tax. Petrol is cheaper in Russia which is great for Norwegians. It works both ways. It is cold at the border and there isn’t much there except a fence and a gate and a building on the Russian side. A small souvenir shop is there and a gorgeous husky dog is outside in the snow. After a short visit we are back on the bus and heading back to Kirkenes stopping for a lovely view over the town on the way back. It is only lunchtime and our flight out isn’t until 7pm so we get off at one of the hotels and put our bags in their storage. We hang out with a couple we were at dinner with – who are essentially Kiwis as well but live in Brisbane. We have a walk around the town but most shops are still closed and it is a tiny town. We stop and have a coffee and after a while wandering we let the others do their own thing and pick up our luggage, grab a taxi and head to the airport. We still have 3 hours until we fly out. There isn’t anything open at the airport where we are so we bring out our heating element for water in our cups and packets of soup. We sit and have that and then finish off the muesli bars we still have left. We pack up our bags and head through to departure. As we are sitting waiting the flight seems to be getting delayed further and further until eventually it is cancelled. What a buggar. We had been told that there are no hotel rooms left in town and no flights out by Hurtigruten staff, however when we check with the desk we get rescheduled on a flight at 8am the next morning. The airline is putting us up at The Thon hotel which is very nice. We get an amazing room at the top but it is so late we don’t have time to enjoy it. We even have a coffee machine in our room. The hotel put on food for us as we haven’t had dinner and we are hungry. After a shortish night sleep we are up very early, down to breakfast and on a free taxi to the airport.
Our flight is on time and we head out to Tromso. On arriving we head to our hotel, Scot slips over on the icy snow and lands on his butt. Wish I had my camera on. We book in and head out for a wander around the town. Tromso is a lovely town, heavily snowed in but very cute. The hotel puts on crepes in the afternoon for free which we head back for. They also put on dinner in the evening which we head back down for. It isn’t bad for free. They have a 3 course dinner if you want it. The next day we fly out of Tromso and into Trondheim. The flight is delayed but not badly. We have already had a look around Trondheim but we decide since we have about 7 hours before we fly back out we will check in our luggage and head into town. In hindsight we find that there isn’t much we haven’t seen, it is wet and cold and I feel we have wasted the $120 it has cost to get the bus(we even got on the wrong bus and had to walk back to the original one haha) in and back again. But that is Norway for you. Back at the airport and our flight out to Copenhagen is delayed – but whats new. We are getting used to that already. It isn’t a long flight but it is late when we get there. We catch a train to the hotel which is only 2 stops away from the airport. We are hungry but after waiting a considerable amount of time at the hotel to get the food we have ordered it comes out late and cold. I complain and we walk away from it and go to bed after a cup of soup.
In the morning we have 4 or 5 hours before we need to head to the airport so the hotel stores our bags and we head into town. I want to buy some headache tablets here that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Europe. Copenhagen is a lovely place and we wander around looking for a pharmacy where normally you can only buy 1 packet of anything with codeine in it but the lady asks me how many I want 5?, 10? Packets…lol. No I don’t need that many but I may have to come back in a couple of years to buy more. We have a coffee, walk around the haven – the main harbour area which is far less busy than the last time we were here. We have seen enough and head back to the hotel, grab our bags and take the train to the airport. Although I am sure that Murphy will prevail and our flight will be delayed I still like to get there early just in case.
After checking in and waiting at the gate for a while the pilot comes out and announces to us that Heathrow has a major fog problem and our flight has been delayed by at least 4-5 hours. Great. No change here. The airline does supply vouchers for food though so we head off the claim ours and get a free feed and drink. Eventually we head out on our 2 hour flight home. It is about 10 when we land and the bus takes forever to arrive and take us back to the hotel our car is at. We head around the back to it and open the boot to put our suitcases. Scot sees the back seat lying down and says – we didn’t leave it like that surely! Sure enough as I head around the side of the car I see our window has plastic on it and has been smashed. Bastards. Not Happy JAN!!! We take a look inside the car and the back side window has been completely smashed and there is glass on every inch of the inside of the car. They have ransacked it and strewn everything all over. What a wonderful finish to our amazing holiday……Not. We manage to brush the glass off where we will sit and the hotel helps us put proper plastic on the window. It has already been logged with the police so we head home.
The end of one of the most amazing adventures that I have ever been on. I am not sure how we will top this one(Africa, Brazil,Canada..??) but I would love to come back and do it again one day. I think I would come again late in January next time. Watch this space for our next adventure.
Since the last time I blogged we have been working hard and trying to see and do as much here as we can. We won’t go into a lot but will mention some of the places we have been. Our jobs are not difficult and we also get paid a paupers wage but it doesn’t matter since we have no travel costs really and we do 35 and 36.25 hours a week. We work 5 mins from each other and Scot drops me off at work on the way to his work so we don’t have to have 2 cars.
We joined the local golf club which has a gym and pool which keeps us sane each week as we swim most days and Scot has subscribed to spin each week which he loves (well mostly). The club is a blessing here as they also have a Jacuzzi and steam room which we use after a swim. They have a restaurant and bar which Scot frequents as often as he can get away with it 🙂
We did our 2nd stint looking after the farm and Boris which was between September and October. It was more difficult this time as one daughter floated in and out during our stay and being a teenager was not exactly a clean or neat freak so that was a test for us. Once we finished there we rented a room in a share house in a shed conversion which we call firewood farm. We leave there in two weeks time which we are looking forward to as it is very muddy outside and quite a small place. Whilst here we have spent most of our weekends away seeing the nearby countryside.
Places we have been to are Weymouth to see Mick and Michaela. I have to say if we had seen Weymouth before we settled in Horsham, we would have gone there. It is a lovely town on the waterfront with a great atmosphere. Mick and Michaela have a great place close to all the action which will no doubt be transformed as they have time. We spent a weekend at Weston Super Mare which is a lovely place near Bristol but on the waterfront. when the tide goes out from there it recedes almost as far as Wales it is the longest tidal draw that I have seen in years . On our way back from WSM we saw Stonehenge – only from the road, but it was so close and it costs far too much nowadays to go and see it, that it isn’t worth paying the price. They had a half marathon on the Sunday we were there so we spent an hour or so clapping and encouraging people. When you have had this done to you when doing a triathlon you know how much it helps so it’s nice to give back to others.
We met Ruth and Mick in Castleton in the peak district for a weekend when they were over for a short time. We were very fortunate that it had snowed just before we arrived so had our first taste of winter there. They picked us up from the train station and getting back to the accommodation was a little hairy with ice/snow on the road. We walked up into the snow in the morning to get a magical view over the surrounding area which was so lovely. In the towns nearby the Christmas lights were all just being turned on which created that magical feeling wherever you went. We went to Eyam a town that has it’s fame due to being the only place that the Black Plague got to outside of London. The people in the town isolated themselves so that it wouldn’t spread. It made it’s way to Eyam by way of fleas in a bundle of cloth taken there. It was the fleas that lived on the rats that spread the virus and not the rats themselves. We visited an amazing cave and watched a Hawk in action – quite spectacular. We really enjoyed our weekend there and it was sad to have to say goodbye when we both left.
We took a weekend trip over to Whitstable (famous for welks, oysters, mussels & cockles) where Scot believed it was a lovely place. We met Lauren there for the day which was so nice to catch up with her before she left England to travel back to NZ. We spent the day and evening walking around checking out the local area and stayed at what turned out to be an unfortunately crappy B&B in Birchington on Sea. We had mulled wine and fruit mince pies in Whitstable whilst singing Christmas carols which was really cool. On the Sunday we saw Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs. Margate has definitely had it’s day and is a a bit rundown and far too expensive for what it is. Broadstairs is a very cool place that has a great beach. I imagine it to be packed in summer. This was the home of Charles Dickens once upon a time.
Our last weekend away was spent at Folkstone in Kent. We really liked it when we were there for a couple of days before heading over to France so decided to go back and have another look. This time we got the B&B right and it was amazing. We had clear skies and cool weather. Saturday night we ate at the Grand hotel which would have been a stunner in it’s day. Sitting inside, I was able to imagine it in it’s grandeur during the war days with officers and soldiers sitting inside with elegant ladies. It has a magical spot overlooking the sea up on the hillside. We found an awesome café that made the best Victoria sponge I have ever eaten! We did a bit of tour around the countryside driving home and came across a lovely village called Rye which we must get back to at some stage.
That pretty much concludes our visits to nearby locations before we left for our latest amazing holiday. Updates of that to come shortly.
We weren’t sure if we were going to continue our blog but I know there may be some waiting for updates.
So we left the southern area of West Sussex and partially settled ourselves into our room in our share house and then had to leave to do a house sit in Warboys which is near Cambridge. This sit was only for a week looking after two lovely fluffy cats, Buddy and Mini Moo Mouse. We loved our time here in a very small village with the two cats who were just adorable. Mouse is rather rotund and needs to diet but it is difficult since her owners work crazy shift hours and it is impossible to regulate her food. She still manages to jump up on top of their fence though and get up on most bench tops etc. She loved nothing more than to come and cuddle up on the bed in the night. Buddy was a little more reserved having been rescued obviously from someone who hit him as he was quite timid, but thankfully he is now in a loving home. He looks like Freddy’s cousin it is uncanny and quite strange as I look at him I expect him to act a little like Freddy and have to remind myself it isn’t him.
We didn’t have time to explore much as it was a bank holiday weekend when we were there so everything was closed and the roads were too busy to go very far.
After this sit we headed back to Sherington where our room was and we had a couple of days there before we had to go to our Gifford Park house sit. We went to have an explore and go to the shops in Milton Keynes only to my surprise to see that it was really huge and absolutely chaotic. After battling for 20mins to find a car park – even the furthest away we could get was full – we finally found one. At this point I was not feeling comfortable with where we were and was not liking the area we thought we would settle in. When you drive around there, all roads are either horizontal or vertical and there are roundabouts at every intersection. All housing and business etc is surrounded by greenery which is nice, however you have no idea at any time where you are or what is behind the greenery. It is a very strange area and not our cup of tea really. It may be nice in some of the little villages behind the greenery but there are many areas that are just dense apartment style living which looked ordinary and quite unkempt and there are many many more new ones being built.
We got to our next sit in Gifford Park looking after Sylvester who was a lovely English blue cat. The house was detached with lovely gardens but was in a really isolated area. This was the house we had to make a decision about with staying for 6 months. We weren’t comfortable with how isolated it was and to get to a supermarket it was a 20 minute drive. No walking down the road or a 5min drive to get some milk etc. There was a pub 10 mins walk away but it wasn’t very nice. During our stay there, there was a breakin a few doors down with the burglars getting over 50,000 pounds worth of jewellery and money. It made me feel quite unsafe in the area since I already had felt isolated. We then made the decision that we weren’t going to stay here. Nothing felt right and although the house was fine, the bed was far too old and uncomfortable to sleep on for 6 months and there was a lot of maintenance needing done to the place. It worried me that there would be problems especially when the upstairs shower started leaking through the ceiling onto downstairs furniture. We also had had no luck with jobs where the recruitment agencies were not even doing us the courtesy of getting back to us. After my job interview I never even got told whether I got the job or not which is just plain rude. To this day I was never phoned by the fellow I had dealt with, but I did hear via other means, only by asking, that I didn’t have it. It seemed we were battling with too many other people for jobs and the companies had their pick of people. We forget we are in our 50’s and in a lot of people’s minds that may be getting too old to employ. We are also new immigrants which I am sure also puts people off us, even if we are English speakers.
During our stay here we had friends stay with us for a few days. It was nice for them to get out of their campervan for a couple of days and it was nice to have company for a change. Scot and I had been together every day for 14 months with no time apart really so other company was definitely welcome. Whilst they were with us we visited Stratford upon Avon and Stow on the Wold which are lovely places. We had mostly great weather but did a bit of relaxing whilst we watched the squirrels stealing cherries off the tree outside the conservatory.
So now that we realised this place wasn’t for us, we had to make a decision about where we would go. Horsham was the place we had loved the most so far and we had felt really at home there. Then I got a message from the farm owners so I asked them if they still needed a sitter for Sept/Oct and if so maybe we could still do it. They were very pleased to have us back and said they would help with whatever we needed to help us get settled there which was so nice. It was quite a relief making the decision to go back down south as I hadn’t slept well for days and I felt quite ill not knowing which way to go. All we really wanted was to get ourselves settled and into a normal routine again. It is nice to travel but after a while you really crave being back in one place in a routine and having things kind of normal again.
Once the owner at Gifford Park came back we told her we wouldn’t be able to do the 6 month house sit as we were moving back down south. We had 2 other house sits in the north we had committed to which we weren’t going to let anyone down. After Gifford Park we had a few days in Sherington before we again headed back to Warboys to look after Buddy and Mouse. Prior to driving up there we had to go down to Horsham for one night as I had an interview with the RSPCA close to where we were going to move to. We stayed at a bnb close by rather than worry about the van which was still in storage at a close by nursery.
Buddy and Mouse were more comfortable with us this time we were back in Warboys. We also found time to visit Cambridge where they had a graduation day on that day, so the city was filled with students in robes. They have park and ride places all over the surrounding area so we parked up at St Ives and took the bus, which uses a dedicated busway purpose built so no cars can drive on it, into the city. Cambridge has lovely buildings mostly belonging to the university, but if you were looking for anything else there wasn’t much. We also went back into St Ives township on a Sunday to have a look and they just happened to have a bike show on so Scot was very pleased. It is a lovely town with some cool buildings and a river running through. On another day we went to Duxford Aerodrome which is an aircraft museum particularly with aeroplanes used in the wars. Scot saw a Catalina which was like what his father flew in the war. They had flights in a spitfire fighter plane which we thought would be great but on finding out that it cost £3000 for 30 mins flying we thought it best to give it a miss. We enjoyed a couple of drinks at the local pubs close by and a meal of local fish and chips.
We had told Wendy at the share house we would be leaving to go down south so we left Warboys and packed up our things in Sherington, got our van out of storage and a couple of days later headed back down to Horsham. We had found a farm near Horsham we would stay for a few days that had a shower and toilet for use. It had been raining before we arrived and I nearly got the van bogged trying to get it parked up. We stopped at the farm for 3 nights but found we had little or no internet access which wasn’t going to be good for us trying to apply for jobs so we up and moved to a small campsite in Slinfold just outside Horsham. Slinfold had recently been voted as one of the top villages in England and it is easy to see why as it is very quaint and the people we met are friendly. They had no facilities but did have a toilet dump and fresh water which was enough for us. We went back to washing hair outside in a bucket which is no biggie really. I had an iron so if I needed job interview clothes ironed then it was easy to do.
We enjoyed our stay at this site and met some lovely people whilst there. Most days were filled with looking on the internet and applying for jobs. We found that the recruiters were more on the ball here and did follow up and get back to you very quickly. I heard within 2 days that I had been pipped at the post for the RSPCA job which was a shame as it had seemed perfect for me but there is obviously something else out there I am supposed to get. We did a little tripping around whilst we were back down south. We went and met up with Jenny down in Worthing and tripped around the local area also seeing Arundel again. I had another job interview at Cats Protection Society which turned out to be an hours drive away which although I would have liked the job, the drive would have been awful so was quite thankful when they decided they wanted someone with programming skills which I am not interested in doing anyway.
Then we both got an interview for the same company – a campervan company which we thought would work, but the owner seemed to be so full of himself and was quite rude when he interviewed us together that we didn’t even bother following up with him. It wasn’t right for either of us. Scot got himself some work for a few days helping a fellow out with sanding and painting work which I think he found quite hard after so long off work. It has been a long time since his fingers have bled!
About a week into July Scot gets 2 interviews on the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After both companies interviews he is wondering which one he should take if he gets offered them. About 6 that night he gets an offer for the first job which he ends up taking. He knows that the other company wants him to work for them as well but the job would end up frustrating him so I am glad he made the better choice. He will be Technical Executive for a company that sells damp proofing products. With his knowledge he will be able to learn these new products quite easily and sales will be a breeze for him. We are both really thrilled that he has a job, now it’s just me. We have to do our last house sit up in Northampton so he will start his job on the 1st of August. It is right in the heart of Horsham and only 10 minutes drive from “home” where ever that will actually be. We do have this dilemma of where we will live now but more about that later on. The next day I see a job in Horsham that has been advertised several times and it appears they can’t find anyone so I decide to phone them. I have an interview in no time scheduled for the next afternoon. So I complete the interview, we head back to the van and have to get ourselves packed up again to head away. The van goes into the carpark at the farm where they have allowed us to park it for a bit and the car is all packed up and we head first to Sherington to pick up some books I had ordered and Wendy had made us lunch which was really lovely. Then we left and arrived in Northampton.
We are looking after an elderly cat – Bruno – who is around 18/19 years old and has kidney disease. He is a lovely ginger boy who is quite frail but still manages most things quite well. We just have to make sure he has his medicine each day with his food. This is where we still are at the present time. We have been here for 10 days and have 7 more to go before we head down south permanently. On the day we arrive here I get a phone call to offer me the job I went for. It is quite funny as it is also in Horsham only 5 minutes from Scot which means we can drive to work together and home again and don’t need another car. Although both wages are quite low, we won’t have to spend the thousands of pounds a year travelling like most people do in this country, so a huge saving there. It is nothing for someone to spend the likes of up to £8,000 on train travel a year. The big plus is we will have hopefully low stress jobs with a good work/life balance and can spend time at the gym and pool for our health. The big plus is there is an awesome golf club and country club in Slinfold we looked out and to join is not much more than the local pool when you take in parking fees and includes gym, classes, sauna, pool, restaurant’s etc and also golf for 7 days a week so when the $$ come in we hope to join.
So whilst we have been here so far we have been to Foxton Locks where the canal boats go through a number of locks to get the boats up a hill. A very interesting place and the temps are starting to go right up. This particular day was high 20’s. We went to Rockingham castle which has lovely gardens and an interesting history. It is still lived in by the current generation of the family who has owned it for over 400 years. We went to Fawsley and then Banby which are cute country villages. The temperature was mid 30’s on this day which was too hot for me. It is not nice over here when it gets hot as no one is geared up for it. No one has air conditioning so if you go into a pub or a shop the heat is unbearable and you can’t stay long. All the beer is not refrigerated like in Australia so the beer is warm and the fridges don’t cope so anything coming out of a fridge is not cold either. The buses don’t have air con so are dreadful to travel in. When we spent the day in the city in Northampton we found that only that large stores have air con so they are the best place to stay shopping in. We had to do some shopping as now we are both starting work on 1 August we need work clothes as we have very few. It will be better buying them once we start to earn but we need to have a few to start. Luckily Scot’s few earned dollars doing a bit of painting will come in handy.
Yesterday we had lunch with the Warboys couple which was so lovely. We went to a little pub – the Snooty Fox out near Thrapston. A lovely lunch and great company. I feel like we have a few friends here now which is nice. On Tuesday we are meeting Wendy from the share house in Sherington for lunch at the near Castle Ashby which is supposed to have lovely gardens which at this time of the year are spectacular( photos to come).
We arrive at the campground which is near the small village of Newchapel near Lingfield and Scot is happy to see a quaint local pub just down the road. We are shown in by the warden who is from the Czech Republic and he is interested to know we have travelled to their country. We have a pitch where we can put the car next to the van and it is a bit weird to be back in the van again but at the same time we feel like we are back ‘home’. We settle in and get ourselves sorted out. It is weird having a little car with us but it will be great as we can leave the van to charge up in the campground and head off somewhere.
We leave the van in the campground for the day and head off in our wee car to Dorking. We drove through this village one day and decided we wanted to come back and explore and also check out the op shops for some cheap work clothes and that time is coming nearer again. After breakfast we head off up there. The roads in these areas are all very narrow and it is ok in a small car but everyone drives like maniacs and do terrible speeds on them that it does get a bit scary. I am not happy doing over the speed limit as even then it seems to be too fast for some of their roads but seemingly I am too slow and get passed at high speed even when bends are approaching. Crazy bastards really as there is nowhere to go if a car comes around the corner. Tailgating is also very common. It never bothered me in the van as they can see I am driving a large vehicle and I go as slow as I need to in it. People forget that campervans have all your crockery, glasses, bottles etc and you can’t jeopardise that by flying around corners. I hate it being back in the car though but I just slow down and make them wait if they are that crazy.
In Dorking we park up and check out the shops. The chicken is the town symbol as apparently they breed a lot of them in this area, so the main big roundabout has a large chicken on it. They have heaps of op shops which we take our time going around. I find a couple of things to buy plus a jigsaw puzzle that I am looking forward to doing. I love puzzles but you have to have the time to sit and figure them out which normally wouldn’t happen. The puzzle I did in Woking was fine until one of the Vizlas ate a piece that fell on the floor – buggar! We did get the piece back but it was a grey salivary blob that at the time we weren’t 100% sure it was a piece of puzzle until the end of it and there was a piece missing! We have lunch at a lovely little café in town where they make all their own food and they are a little more healthy. Funny that over here a café does not have to have their own toilet for customers. You have to go down the road if you need one. I am grateful there is a Waitrose in town as it appears that they have the only loo in the main centre and it seems that everyone has come to use it.
5pm and it is time to join the peak hour traffic and head back to the camper. We have had to fill the meter a couple of times and it is a bugger here where you have to put the exact amount in for the time you want or you lose the change. So if it costs 3 pounds for 2 hours and you only have 4 pounds, it won’t tack on 40 extra minutes you lose the extra pound or you have to put say 4.50 pounds in to get 3 hours. I am sure it is to profit from the fact that most won’t have the correct change to put in the meter. Anyway we head off ‘home’ and the traffic is slow and there are long queues. It’s no wonder when people drive and the roads are congested when the prices of trains are horrendous. An average trip on the train into the heart of London from just outside can be as much as 40 pounds return each. That is why the traffic congestion is so bad everywhere. I always thought they had a great train system – which they do, but at a horrendous price.
We get back to the van and decide since we have a pub within walking distance for the first time since we arrived back here we will go down and have a drink. It is quite packed since it is a Friday night but we have one drink – which is quite expensive – and then head back to Morrie for dinner.
Saturday 9th April
We head out late morning as the owners aren’t going to be ready for us to arrive until later in the day but we decide to head up anyway and we can leave the van in their carpark and head into town with the car for an hour or two. We leave the van behind and head into Horsham town. Being a Saturday it is busy but we find a park that is right by a pool we will check out for swimming later. We walk into the town centre and we find they have a few market stalls around. The town looks very nice and they have a big modern shopping centre right in the centre of it. We will check that out another day. We walk around and I am hungry so decide to buy a frittata in a deli style shop. Unfortunately for me it is the worst food I have had in a while and it was expensive. A small piece of frittata for 6 pounds, well you have to try these places and now I know I won’t be going back there again.
Mid afternoon we head back to the farmhouse we are looking after. This place is a part 13th century Farmhouse on 5 acres. It has a large lake which attracts all types of birds and has fish in it. The gardens are lovely and we overlook lovely green paddocks. It is certainly peaceful, well except for some housing development that is going on close by which is a great shame as this place was right out in the countryside and obviously a farmer has sold off his land for housing. The owners show us around the house and then have so much to do to get themselves organised so we make ourselves at home whilst they then go out for dinner. Boris the cat is who we are looking after and he is a lovely good sized pussycat. A little aloof you could say but later I find out he actually loves cuddles and attention when given.
The owners leave the next day early and we proceed to move all our gear into the house after breakfast. I don’t feel comfortable to move all our personal possessions in and our food bins and fridge food while the owners are still around. It feels much better for us to do this after they have left. We check out the gardens and lawns we will look after and there is a swimming pool but it will remain under cover until they are back as they feel it isn’t necessary to burden us with getting it ready for the summer.
We enjoy our first weekend at the house where we have a comfortable good sized bed so we sleep well. We get ourselves organised in the kitchen which is huge and has massive cream bench tops which you really wouldn’t want to spill anything on or discolour them in anyway as that would be devastating. There is a large conservatory style room on the end where it gets sun all day and it’s a great room to just sit and read (and great for puzzles). Like all houses they have an oil heating system that starts up around 5am to warm the house up and switches off midmorning only to restart up around 6pm to warm the house at the end of the day. I really would hate to be the one footing the bill for the heating in a house this large.
On Monday morning we head into the town centre as I was supposed to drive over to Swansea today to hand in our Aussie drivers licences and passports to swap the licences for UK ones. However after much thought and agonising we decided it wasn’t a good idea for one of us to drive the 5 hours trip over to Wales to try and get our passports back straight away so we post them all off hoping they don’t take too long. We then talk to the pool staff and sign up for a 6 week plan they have on which will make it about 1pound per visit for the pool. Not a bad price especially since most pools here are 5 or 6 pounds (10-12 AUD) per entry. Very expensive paying 25AUD just for a swim for us both. Anyway we then go in for a swim. We only have a 25 metre pool but that is better than the 14m pool in Spain. It has been a while since we swam in a 25m pool and we find the 1km swim quite tough on the first day but still succeed. It will get easier each day. They also have many op shops here so we will be able to check them out as well.
Over the first week Boris doesn’t seem to be around very much and I feel he goes missing for very long periods of time. We have a morning where he has obviously just eaten elsewhere as he hasn’t had any biscuits at home and he brings up a whole lot of them encompassed in what looks like mouse innards – yuck! Unpleasant to clean up. He often brings in mice so he isn’t allowed into the main house area at night. He gets shut into the kitchen conservatory area where he can come and go outside if he wants to. There are mice traps in the kitchen for the live ones he brings in, but these ones are brilliant and very humane. They just shut the mouse in the trap alive and you can see something has been caught when you get up in the morning and then let the poor mouse back into the bush outside. Over the past 4 weeks we have caught 3 mice. The first one got let go only I think to be re-caught the next night. When we let him out the second time however he is very wobbly and goes around in circles. We realise Boris has been hassling it all night and it is very unwell. We still let it out but unfortunately a few minutes later a bird swoops down and he is history. The next one is luckier, it gets to run away very quickly and we haven’t seen it since.
Since we have been here we have virtually had so little rain it has been great, but the gardens may need to start being watered if there isn’t much soon. The days we have had have been lovely and fairly warm in the morning, but seem to cool in the afternoon when it looks like it may rain but doesn’t. We have had to mow the lawns each week which take quite a few hours even with the ride on mower. Scot has been doing some water blasting on the pavers for the owners which makes the outside areas look quite amazing. I get stuck into some gardening as of course with spring there are many weeds popping up all over the place. They have lots of nettles coming up in the garden which really just take over completely and the beautiful bluebell flowers get drowned by them. I pull out as many as I can but it is hard work. We buy some pansies and I pot them up to put on the patio. I haven’t had pansies around since my teen years in Dunedin and I just adore their colour so I decide to enjoy them while we are here.
We have been for a couple of walks around the countryside and the lovely spring flowers are all starting to bloom along the walkways. We walked to Christs Hospital – a kind of suburb but was based on a snotty school that was built there. They had a pool as well but they wouldn’t let us become members as we weren’t here long enough. The main walk travels on a public walkway on a farmers property and follows the Arun river. We have stayed previously at Arundel down south with the big castle and the town is named after this river. The river here is quite small but the surrounding area is covered with bluebells and in parts is a fantastic sea of blue. Further in the walk the foliage is starting to sprout a white cluster flower which tastes like onion and garlic. Partway at the beginning of the walk you can look across at the house we are in and sitting in the sun we can see the walkers coming and going.
Our daily routine here consists of breakfast, emails etc and then off to the pool for our 1km swim, back home to a very green smoothie and lunch and then into the garden or waterblasting in the afternoon. Boris loves to join me in the garden in the afternoon. We don’t see a lot of him except when in the garden or when he is asleep in his bed on the couch during the day. We sit outside early evening with a book and a drink and watch the many people walking along the public path in the farm we overlook, with their dogs and children. We have started to look for jobs and have completed our CV’s ready to hand over. We have registered with a doctor – it is strange here. You can only register with one doctor and they have to be within 3 miles of where you live. You aren’t allowed to go to any other doctor, only the one you register with. We don’t know yet how that works when you work away from your home and you need to visit a doctor. You are allowed to go to another one a couple of times over a 2 week period but no more than that. I guess we will find out down the track how that works. We are just waiting on our UK licences. We had to give them our Aussie licences and they get sent back to Australia and cancelled. I wish I had known that before we paid to renew them just before we left, what a waste of money.
We have also managed to secure several other house sits. It seems my fears of not being able to get any were completely unfounded. I seem to manage to get any that I apply for now and have even been approached by several I have had to turn down as we are already busy or they are a little out of the area we are heading to live in. This area is Milton Keynes which is a bit north of London outside the M25. We have a house sit there for 6 months from November so we are heading to live there and we are looking at jobs there as well. Over the next 6 months we have quite a few house sits, but we often have a couple or more days in between where we don’t have anywhere to live. So I decided we needed to have a rented room in a share house where we can put the majority of our stuff and stay in between our sits. After a couple of weeks looking I manage to secure a room in a share house which seems to be the way most people do it here. It is really expensive to rent your own place and unlike Australia or NZ you pay all the council rates, water usage etc etc. Plus you pay a huge amount up front, that is non-refundable, for the real estate to do checks on you and that could easily amount to 1500 pounds or Aud3000 just to get into a house. Then you pay your rent plus all other amounts each month. So it is an expensive exercise so it seems most people just share a house with others as it keeps the cost down. Our room is with a landlord and one other renter so we will see what that is like. We will only be there when we don’t have a house sit but we will leave all our stuff there. Most are from Monday to Friday so the landlord gets the weekend free and the lodgers must spend the weekend at home. I would say that is because they are working away from home and this is the cheapest option. Our landlord has agreed to let us stay weekends but we have said we will probably either have sits organised or will be away exploring on the weekends.
We have visited a few areas close by. We went to Brighton and met up with a friend of a friend. Unfortunately we arrived on a day they had a marathon on so it was total chaos and took us ages to just get there, so we picked up Jenny and headed out of Brighton along the water front to Eastbourne. It is lovely along the esplanade down south. No wonder so many people head there for their weekends, however when you have a look at the prices for hotels or b&b’s it is so expensive. The average price for an ordinary hotel room somewhere in Brighton is around 200pounds for a Saturday night but some charge 400 pounds upwards and they aren’t 5 star hotels. We had thought we would go down for a weekend but I don’t think that will happen seeing those prices. We had a drive around Eastbourne which is a lot quieter and far less touristy than Brighton and in fact I would probably prefer staying there for a weekend.
We spent a day down at Petworth which is a really cool little village, quite quirky and lots of antique shops. They actually had on an antique fair when we were there so there were quite a few people around. It was a really warm day as well and I am sure we got sunburnt sitting having lunch outside a little café. There is a huge house – Petworth House which we didn’t get a chance to have a look around but maybe we will go back some time. Driving around the countryside is really nice and we see some beautiful old (and new but look old) stately homes. Scot will have to photo them as he has started to draw them in ink. He has done one for the owners where we are currently staying and turned out quite good so hope they like it. Maybe he can sell a few as art here seems to attract good $$. Unfortunatly we have not really done justice to the area exploring as we have been busy which is a shame. Scot has repaired the fibreglass back of the van and fixed minor things so it looks good for sale. On one Saturday we went to the spring festival in Horsham town and had prime spot and had a coffee and watched all the dancing, drumming and bands which was very cultural and fun. We had such a good possie that we made the local paper photo, the trouble was it was our backs! Maybe the best side anyway. Vicki has already had a job interview and a follow up one soon so hopefully everything will fall into place. I will wait till we are up in MK and start looking as my type of work I think will be easier to find when I am there.
It will be a bit sad leaving this area and south of London but we are looking forward to our next sits and working life north of London and excited as well. Being more settled we may be able to explore more. We have purposely not got any housesits in August so we can stay at the share house and travel on the weekends hopefully even to Paris or Berlin. Also we want to see a few museums and Scot wants to check out a couple of the car, motorcycle and aircraft museums in the area.
Another update hopefully won’t take as long as this one has.
We arrive at our next house sit which is 3 weeks in Woking looking after 2 Hungarian Vizlas. The owners welcome us and so do the dogs with full on excitement. We discuss the dogs needs and then we take them for a walk to see a couple of the normal routes they get taken. The dogs have only been with the current owners for a year but they had 3 years with previous owners whom we figure didn’t provide any training or discipline as these boys really don’t listen to what they are required to do and they pull badly in great anticipation of getting to a place they can run free. Anyway we get back and find out what their food routine is. The dogs are inside dogs and are allowed to roam free in the dining/lounge/kitchen area. As a consequence of this, this area is not overly clean and does smell ‘doggy’ but we have to deal with it. We stay the night in the house, the couple are leaving later the next day. The next day we walk the dogs down the Green Lane (which we rename the Green Mile after the movie as we later feel incarcerated) with Kevin to St Johns wood which is a really neat area around a small village which has most amenities- but no bloody pub in fact there are none anywhere close- but it is very muddy and a fair walk with the dogs to get there.
Kevin takes us in the car later in the day and shows us where he takes the dogs for a run by car as it is too far to walk them. We are expected to take them in the campervan which we are reluctant to do but may give it a go and have a partition made quickly to stop the dogs from getting into the cab but this is not ideal. We take the dogs for our first walk to Green Mile and they are a handful and really pull on the choker chains which we don’t like but seem to work on them as ordinary leashes would be hopeless and too tiring as there is no stopping the pulling as they aren’t trained for them. We end up turning the wrong way and end up at the golf course which is ok as there is a public walkway passing through it with wild bush on each side which is then surrounded by the golf course as it winds itself around. However the dogs do not play by the rules and stay in the bush and tracks but also decide to chase squirrels up trees (they love to hunt and chase as that is what they do) and run all over the course to the consternation of the golfers who are still playing and the other responsible dog owners walking their very well behaved dogs, well that’s what it feels like but who knows. But as we are newbies we just shake our heads and try to get the dogs under control but the more we yell at them to come they run further away and it is a good half hour and nearly dark by the time we get them on the leash and get back ‘home’. The area around here is really cool and lots of open space and lovely lanes and roads with amazing which we can’t wait to explore. We are surrounded by large brick mansions and this part is quite exclusive and possibly 75% of all the houses we walk pass (and the one we are in would be I million pound homes + with the rest not much less. We say goodbye to our house owners as they go off to the airport and settle in to the doghouse.
The room we are in is upstairs and we have a new ensuite which is great but the bed is way too small really only a large single and very uncomfortable so we have to get the memory foam mattress which helps but is not ideal. Over the next few days we walk the dogs each morning for a good 1 ½ hours then they get fed and we relax and have a coffee. We walk into Woking if the weather is fine or we don’t have to carry much as it is a real pain parking the van.
We are big time looking at a small car but what we can afford is at the low end and though not bad still most are not ideal either a bit rough or been in the hands of a smoker which is a real turnoff. We quite like the looks of the Peugeot 207 which are popular here and seem good value for money. We travel to outside Dorking to test drive one and though pretty good (it is ex smoker you can tell straight away) and the riding position is a bit low for Vicki even with the seat at its highest. We check another out which is closer to us and while we are looking at it(it is by far the best one we have seen) I wander out the back to look at the other cars there not on display-and also to have a pee- and spy a real tidy Toyota Auris which looks the real deal. By this time we are realising we can go round in circles looking in this price range. We look at the spiel on it and it has only done 73000miles for a 2008 model 2 owner and has been traded and has a MOT for 3 more months. We arrange for a test ride the next day and it is a tidy, clean car and runs great so we are sure it is a contender. You can tell sometimes just by the look of it and how it has been looked after, for example it looks like the boot(it is a hatch) has never had anything in it and all the doors shut beautifully and very little scratches and wear and tear.
So home and Vicki has to arrange insurance and we have to have our Oz drivers licences exchanged for UK ones as our internationals have run out. Anyway if I explained the 5 days of bureaucracy and run around to get someone to insure the van and the car it would run to 50 pages and I can’t believe Vicki’s tenacity but she is a marvel and finally all is sorted but we have to send our Oz licences and passports to Swansea in Wales as they are the only centre that do it here. We are reluctant to send our passports and Vicki toys with the idea of driving there but in the end our commitment to our next sit and the hassle makes us take the risk and send it registered with covering letter to explain we need our passports back asap as we need them to get jobs. Also the insurance company that insured us for Europe won’t insure us if we are not travelling overseas which is strange so we get quoted 1400 pounds by one but end up finding one who will insure us for 200 pounds. Whew. The fact that we have not held a UK license for long doesn’t help.
So we go through the rigmarole of buying the car and we think we have done well as it really is in good shape but time will tell. We get back and let the dogs out as 5 -6 hours inside is about the limit so we can’t be away long. We have after a week given up on walking them later in the day as we don’t think they really need it and we don’t need the stress either. When they are outside they run around a bit and play fight which is nice and they seem quite happy lying around inside when they can go out. By the end of the first week we are adamant that we won’t be getting housesits with dogs and will settle for cats. These two are really trying our patience but we remind ourselves that it is not their fault they just haven’t been trained to be on leads. They love to run and run as they sniff out rabbits and squirrels and are a joy to watch and they are really good around the other dogs we meet at the paddocks. We encourage them to run to tire them out but really they don’t need much. By the third week we have grown quite attached to them and they really are lovely natured boys and it is hard not to like them. Growling at them doesn’t do any good as they do not respond to it well so we just tell ourselves that it is not our problem and definitely won’t be next week as we count down the days.
I have taken the opportunity to start drawing with coloured pencils as it is a clean medium though I would love to do my oils I will wait till we are in a home where it is safe and I can’t do any damage. It was definitely out with the kittens and the third house is so tidy and newish that I won’t risk it but will keep on practising with the pens and pencils. I want to do pictures of the animals or the house for the owners. We have a routine here that is pretty good as it is my job to be first up to let the dogs out and make tea since Vicki got up early in the last house to feed the kittens and Henry and let Zilla the hen out.
We get through the 3 weeks with the dogs but aside from not being open to looking after dogs again – unless we absolutely know they are well behaved, we would prefer to check out a house at least before making a commitment for any length of time to make sure the cleanliness is up to our standard otherwise we will not accept the sit. There is nothing worse than having to live in someone else’s unclean house especially when they have no cleaning things.
The day before we leave we think it is wise to top up the power in the van as it shouldn’t take much so we plug it in through a window for a couple of hours. Later that day Scot goes into the van to check it out and finds there is no power – WTF? We can’t understand it but wonder if the house power had drained our leisure battery but I can’t see how it can. Through the night I come to the conclusion that the rogue fan heater must have come on at some stage and drained the battery. So our plans for where we are going to stay for 2 nights until our next house sit are messed up and we now have to stop in a campground so we can power up the van.
On the day the owners are returning we have cooked them dinner for that night since they have had a huge flight and will be jet lagged and Scot has cooked them date scones. The living area and fridges are definitely cleaner than when they left. We walked the dogs for the last time and about mid morning we head off. We now have 2 vehicles to drive so we can’t be in the same one with one navigating so I decide that I will drive the van with Kate my GPS lady showing the way and Scot will follow me in the car. If I lose him he will have the tablet but I hope that won’t happen. We drive through the busy traffic on the M25 and then find the camp ground I had pegged for the next 2 days.
We are looking forward to our next 6 week sit in Horsham as there is only one cat Boris who apparently does his own thing. In the end the previous sit has been done and though not ideal we have to take the good with the bad and take out the positives. We have been to the next sit to say hi so know what it is like plus 6 weeks will let us settle in a bit, get some swimming underway and establish a nice routine.
Off the ferry we drive and back into the land of the English speaking and back to some sort of normality if we can call it that (and driving on the ‘correct’ side of the road). I have teed up some screen shots of a place we can go and buy our English sim cards for phones and tablet which happens to be Chichester. These small towns are the most difficult to find parking for the van to be able to buy the things you need. As we travel on the motorway towards Chichester we are surprised at the amount of litter in this country that lines both sides of the road. We just can’t figure out why councils don’t have people cleaning it up, there is so much of it. We notice this more coming off the ferries at the ports and heading out on the highways though there is litter on the side of the road elsewhere.
I have found a Waitrose carpark here in Chichester and we drive in. It is really busy and they don’t allow parks big enough for people like us, but we back into a park that won’t interfere with anyone else getting by. They charge in these supermarket carparks if you aren’t shopping at the supermarket but thankfully it looks like the ticket machine is broken. We walk into Chichester and find the mobile shop and buy our sims. Yay, we have op shops by the mile here in England and we go into the few we have time for before we think we should get back to the van just in case someone is checking our time in the park. We find a couple of puzzles we can do whilst house sitting. We haven’t had time for doing puzzles for years. We will need to buy some new clothes soon as we have been washing our current small holding of clothes for 12 months and some are starting to get a little tatty looking so we will be dropping into quite a few op shops in the near future.
Back to the van and we head towards Arundel where I have spied a park that doesn’t cost much for campers. When we arrive there the carpark for campers is closed but there are a couple of older ones parked along the side of Mill road which is opposite a large castle here in the village. These other campers don’t look like they have been moved for a while so we figure its ok for us to stay here for the night. We park up and go for a wee walk around the village. It is very cute but we won’t be able to look around the castle as it is closed for the winter and not opening for a few weeks. We come across a pub and Scot figures we need to have a drink to celebrate being back in England as that’s what you do. The drinks are very expensive and we find out that it is far more expensive in the south of England than what it is in the north where we thought the prices were really good. One drink is ok, so we have that and head back to the van for the night. It is cold and with no heater it’s a good idea to cook food and fill a hot water bottle to help heat up the van.
We are going to meet the owners of two of our house sits in 2 days time so we need to stay in Arundel for 2 nights, so the second day here we have a further wander around the village and see a bit more of the outer streets. It is cold so we stop for a coffee. 2.50pounds – 3pounds for a coffee is expensive but there won’t be a lot more of these, we have to start conserving money until we get some work. We walk around the town and check out an old church – like every village, town and city has one or many. It is a cute place but there aren’t many people around as it is quite cold and there has been a bit of drizzle. We check out the odd charity/op shop and then take a walk along the mill road where the van is parked down to a lake where there are many ducks and swans. We always forget to bring the bread when we visit lakes and rivers where there is bird life. The ducks and swans are very used to getting fed so seem to hassle anyone entering the lake area hoping for a morsel to be given. It is a lovely walk but a bit muddy and wet along some bits of the pathway which I think we will find quite normal in the UK.
We head back to the van to get some dinner on the stove to help warm the van up a bit.
Wednesday 2nd March
We thought we had lost this day as it was so insignificant that we couldn’t remember what we had done. We left the roadside park and headed down to Rustington and parked up in the Waitrose carpark. I wanted to check out some of the op shops and a health shop. We had 2 hours free parking here. We perused a few of the shops and hurried back to the van just before our time was up. We then headed off to a campground that was close to Horsham since I wanted to feel fresh before we met our house sit owners. We had parked ourselves in a spot and had just set up when a storm came over and we had winds and hail. It was cosy and warm in the van so we sat and watched tv whilst the weather went on around us. A half day of rest for us.
We head out in the morning towards Horsham where we will meet the owners of the house we will be looking after 3rd. We hang around in a nearby carpark until it is time to go and visit and then head over to the house. It is down a narrow little private drive where unfortunately progress has caught up to it nearby and there are huge developments going on but thankfully it hasn’t spoilt their outlook and you wouldn’t know it is happening when at the house. The owners are lovely and after a chat we head off to the next place – Woking where our 2nd house sit owners are waiting to meet us. We stop on the way in Guildford to have a bite of lunch. We park up in a carpark near a pub and go in and order lunch. I then realise we are in a carpark that we aren’t allowed to park in and I have to go out and find somewhere else to park the car (leaving Scot at the pub….oh ohh….) What a nightmare trying to find a spot with the van in a town like this. I really don’t know where I am going but head down the road where I think there is other parking. I find something but they are re-painting the parks and it is only a fluke that someone pulls out from a park where the van can go in enough to allow others to pass by. It is one of the major challenges with the van – to find a reasonable park to go somewhere. We can’t wait to get a normal car one day so we can do this travelling without the headache of parking and narrow roads.
After lunch we head to Woking and park up outside the next house sit. We will be looking after 2 Hungarian Vizlas here and as we meet the owners the dogs are very excited and overwhelm me. It makes drinking a hot tea difficult with the 2 dogs vying for attention and trying to get on my knee. I am wondering what we have let ourselves in for now. It will be fine and we leave there and head towards the place we are house sitting first. We don’t have to be there for another day so we decide to park up in Henley on Thames which is a lovely place. The camperstop we spotted doesn’t turn out to be a good place to park as they fine you if you stay overnight and who wants to cop a 70pound fine for that. I figure out we can park in the train carpark as they take long stay parking of up to a year in the carpark so we head there with the van and position ourselves so we are in a faraway corner and won’t get bothered. We head to a local pub to have a drink which turns out to be horribly expensive so it is only the one and we go back to the van for dinner and sleep.
Friday 4 March
In the morning we have a wander around Henley and check out the shops. We imagine it will be incredibly busy here in summer and when they have rowing regattas on. We leave and head to Watlington where our first house sit is. We are actually staying in a lovely house just outside Watlington near The Chilterns which is a lovely green area west of the London circle. We are looking after 2 kittens Lenny and Max, an elderly cat Henry and Zilla the elderly hen who actually looks very agile and spritely. The owners are a lovely couple we get on well with so much so that we feel like we are old friends. They cook us a lovely dinner as we settle in and make ourselves at home. The next day after a walk around the local farm publicways they have a local rubbish pickup day so we join them and walk the local roadways picking up all that we can spot. Mike takes us on a tikki tour around the local area to see a very old church (it has the crypt inside of the granddaughter of Henry Chaucer the English playwright and also has the oldest operating school in England) and graveyard and then takes us to a shopping area of Wallingford. It is a cute village so we will come back another time to check out the local shops.
Mike and Rebecca head off early that evening to catch their flight and we are left to enjoy this lovely home, pets and location.
Sunday 5 March
We enjoy a short sleep in as the kittens are shut away for the night in a nearby room and they want to get out and have breakfast. Henry needs to be fed and of course Zilla also likes to have a wander in her pen or in the yard if we are close by. We enjoy a bit of a walk around the paddocks again.
Monday 6 March
We are due at the local garage as we have organised to have an MOT done by them. It is due by the end of this week, so we drive down there only to be told by the owner that the van won’t fit under their door and it does have to be put on the hoists to complete the MOT check. Wish they had told us that on Friday when we booked the van in. Now we have to find someone else and in a hurry. He recommends we go to Chinnor where their garages have higher doors and most likely will fit us in. So off we drive to Chinnor which is about half an hour away. The guy is really busy but fits us in on the Friday afternoon. Our niece Lauren is due on Thursday so that should all work in fine. We head home.
Tuesday and Wednesday
The days are just spent relaxing around the house, playing with the kittens, enjoying ourselves outdoors. There isn’t any gardening to be done as it is all in order so we read and organise bits and pieces that we need to get done. We also spend a couple of hours in Wallingford checking out the shops. Scot has started drawing with his pencils and trying to get creative again. I think pencils will be the cleanest to start as we don’t want oils over the carpet!
Thursday 9 March
We drive over to Bracknell to pick up Lauren from her nursing job looking after an elderly lady. We are right in the countryside and need to watch our van hitting the overhanging trees all along the narrow roadways. We drive Lauren back to the house and we enjoy a drink and a catchup since we haven’t seen her since we arrived in London 11 months ago. As we travelled around Europe we always just seemed to miss where she was or was going. As small as Europe is, it was always difficult for us to try and organise the van to get to another city. We went for a wander over the local paddocks and public pathways and ended up getting almost told off by a local farmer when we turned the wrong way and went off the public way.
The next day we had to take the van into Chinnor for its MOT as now it was overdue but you are allowed to drive as long as it’s going to the garage to get it done. They will be an hour or so, so we leave the van and walk to the nearby pub for an ale while waiting. The pub is full as it’s a Friday afternoon and all the locals have come down for a pint. We head back to the garage in an hour but the news isn’t good. We knew we had a leaking radiator pipe or something as we have had to keep filling the radiator with water and we get pools of water underneath the engine when stopped, so we had expected some kind of news. However the news is that our rear wheel bearings are shot and need to be replaced so there is no driving the van until they are fixed and they approve our MOT. We also have a leaking radiator and it needs to be replaced. Bugger more money but it has served us well and they are totally necessary repairs so we book it in for the following Tuesday. The down side is that we can’t drive it anywhere other than to and from the garage. So luckily our kind next door neighbour will take Lauren to the Reading train station and so Saturday arvo we travel to Reading, drop Lauren off and have a look around the city (apparently you can call them a city and not town if they have a cathedral) which is quite busy. Vicki gets some blueberries at a small market at Spain prices which is great, we look around the huge shopping centre which to me are all the same the world over then head home via a slight detour to see the scenery on the way as it winds along the Thames and the villages and towns are beautiful. The next two days were quiet and restful with nice relaxing walks and playing with the kittens who are not allowed outside yet so they love to play with us and a little pottering about outside when the sun comes out.
Tuesday sees us drop the van off earlyish in the morning and then wait for the next bus to Thame where we are going to spend the day looking around then get the later bus back. It is very cold and though rugged up we spend a cold half hour waiting for the bus which duly arrives and is thankfully warm. Thame is another quaint town and has historical buildings and the typical looking English facades and signs that are so recognisable. Straight away we are in the middle of the markets and the veges and fruit prices seem really good and the produce is fresh so we buy some bananas. We would like to get a few things but can’t be bothered carrying them. We have a look around and as we have found in all villages and towns they have their fair share of charity op shops which we love to search. These are a lot more upmarket than ours at home and are in danger of not being the cheap option compared to retail shops but the quality is good and there are still bargains to be found. I search for books and any clothing that is quality especially if you can jag a good pair of Levis or similar. I am searching for the 3rd book in a trilogy and so far I haven’t found it but will keep looking. Maybe it is still to new. Vicki is starting to look for good quality work clothes and op shops are great because compared to most retail shops a wide range of people donate clothes so chances are you can find ones that fit. I have no problem as in my size everything pretty much fits but Vicki can struggle but she has found some gems. We decide coffee is in order to warm up so do that and utilise an hour of van waiting time sitting with me reading the local paper and Vicki on the tablet researching something or another. We then explore more shops but in a town this side you can only go around once or twice and anyway it is lunch time so we find a small café and have a really hearty and tasty tomato soup and crusty bread. Again I struggle to pay the prices for anything substantial as we are not earning and when calculated back I find it hard to pay 20$ for a small burger or sandwich. We decide on a plate of chunky fries as well as only 2.50 pounds.
We wander a bit more then get the 3pm bus as we would rather be a bit early than late and miss getting the van and if it is not quite ready then we can sit at the pub down the road for a bit which we have to do. But the van is soon fixed and after paying a bloody lot of quid we head home but happy that the vans fluids are now contained. I know how the van feels leaking everywhere!! The next day we go to Wallingford to get some groceries as it has the closest Waitrose and we know we can park the van. After we do a small tiki tour to Didcot but not a lot to see but at least we are seeing a bit of the countryside and lifestyle. In the distance we can see the old power station that they are decommissioning and strange for us to see the huge cooling towers in the middle of the fields surrounding villages. But cleaner power beckons but unfortunatly this one had a tower that collapsed when it wasn’t meant to and has killed and buried 3 workers and they can’t find one of them. I had seen it in the news but to see it this close is weird.
The owners come home Thursday so we have dinner ready for them and I have made scones and Vicki biscuits as a thank you but we feel when you come home from holiday it is nice not to have to worry about dinner especially when jetlagged. Rebecca is off to bed early as she is shattered and we stay up a bit but it is an early night. It is with a bit of sadness that we head off the next day to our next sit in Woking as we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay and will miss the kittens especially but also the cat and hen as they have such distinct personalities. If all our sits are like this we will be very happy but figure that like life itself they will all be different and set their own challengers which we will just have to make the most of and enjoy the opportunities.
We head away from Zumaia and drive along the coast road. It is really buzzing and there are heaps of cyclists biking along the coast road and many walking the paths. I guess because it is a beautiful day everyone has come out. The countryside is really lovely here and as usual wish we had more time to stop. There is a small place we could have parked right on the waterfront we pass but you never always know of these places until later. Just before we cross the French border we recognise the roads that we drove on 6 years ago when we drove across the border and back again. The roads are really busy since it is a beautiful day, obviously everyone is out for Sunday. We drive into St Jean de Luz and find a camper stop that is very close by the town. There is one park left for us which is great. There is only water and toilet dump facilities here, no power and it costs a few euro to park here for 24 hours. We park up and walk into the main part of the town. It is absolutely bustling and there are people everywhere. We would like a coffee and a snack but most cafes are full. We walk around the town and along the beach front which is quite crowded with people stretching out in the sun enjoying the day. It’s funny how you think you can remember a place and know the exact streets you went into years before but when you get there you don’t seem to recognise things or things don’t actually face the same way you thought they did. This is how it seemed for me as we walked the streets I struggled to recognise where we parked our car up and walked 6 years ago, but then as I thought we were lost I found the main streets we had walked around and I felt at home again.
We found a café away from the water that wasn’t so crowded and went in and had some lunch. After Spain everything now seems very expensive even though it really isn’t that bad. We had a nice lunch and I enjoyed speaking my little bit of French. I get a real thrill out of it when I know they can understand me and I understand them back. We head back around the streets and come across a New Zealand rugby shop which I can’t believe they would have here in France. I can’t imagine a Frenchman buying any All blacks products. We come across a shop that has a pun on All Blacks, we are in the Basque region and they have a pseudo type silver fern on a t-shirt with All Basques, very clever. We head to the very busy part and decide to have a wine amongst the several hundred people on the most popular part of the town in the sun. There are so many people we are wondering what it will be like tomorrow – Monday when it’s just a normal day. We enjoy a couple of drinks and watch a bit of drama nearby where an ambulance has been called for some reason, then head back to the van. A few vans around us have left – obviously only here for the weekend. We have a train track right behind us with a busy road in front but thankfully it is all quiet through the night and we don’t even notice this.
In the morning we head back into the town as I need a French sim so have a shop pegged to go into. Thankfully the lady does speak some English as it can be difficult to make yourself understood as to what type of sim and what plan you need. The lady helps out but has trouble getting it working. She mucks around for about an hour and then says it must take an hour to activate so says come back in an hour if it’s not ok. So off we go and wander around some more but after an hour nothing has changed so we head back to the store. I am not someone she wants to see as I think she is very frustrated and really is not sure why it won’t work. It really shows when she has to phone her own help line and she keeps getting put on hold and then transferred. I am sure she is swearing in French but she has to get it working for me. After another hour she finally gets someone on the line who knows what they are talking about and murphys law it is only one tiny little configuration change that needs to be made – nothing major. Bingo we are working now and on our way. So we wander around a little more and eventually head back to our van for the night. It has been a lot quieter today than yesterday and a number of shops don’t even open.
In the morning we head out of St Jean de Luz. Until next time, I am sure we will be back. We have already decided we will drive up to another place we have stayed at before called La Rochelle. We had a nice motel that looked out over the ocean last time we were there but this time we will be on the other side of the town. It is really busy on the road – a far cry from the roads we have been on in Spain and Portugal. Traffic is everywhere so we need to make sure we know what lane we need to be in so we don’t make a mistake. Thankfully we don’t encounter many tolls in this part of the country which is unusual. It is a rainy windy day – a far cry from the beautiful day we had on Sunday. It is a long day on the road and late in the afternoon we arrive in La Rochelle. We navigate through peak hour traffic and find the marina that we are allowed to park up at. There are about 20 odd vans there already and it is a big carpark. There is a fun park on the nearby block of land which is playing lively music but there aren’t many people there due to the rainy, cold weather. We park up and go for a walk to see what there is locally. It looks like a number of places are closed up and perhaps only open on the weekend or even in summer. We stop in one of the little bars and have a drink, but it will only be one as it seems rather exorbitant. I don’t recall France being this expensive so I can only think it must just be the south west coast that is this expensive.
La Rochelle is a fairly wealthy town from what I can recall and I guess the prices here reflect that. We head back to the van and a quiet night before we head out in the morning. We were going to drive to Quiberon but we figured perhaps we try a different place nearby and check it out. We head towards Quiberon recognising a few places from 6 years ago but turn off before you head towards the town. This way is slower so takes a little longer but we are rewarded with quaint villages reflecting the quiet coastal lifestyle. The houses are nicely done up unlike a lot in other rural French areas. We arrive into Port Louis and it is right on the coast and we have two camps to look at and choose which will be better. We pass the first which is overlooking a beach and the ocean. It is a hard stand with only a couple of campers but we decide to check out the second one before making a decision. There are old stone walls and forts in this town and it looks really lovely. We can see a peninsula across from the main road but it appears to be a long drive around to it and we wonder whether you can even drive campervans on the roads there.
We arrive at the second site and it is mostly a grassy park encompassed within fort type walls which is very quaint, but the grass is very wet and muddy and we decide the hard stand is much better to park on since it is only one night. It is a cold day and after setting up back at the first camperstop we decide we don’t want to walk anywhere as it is a little late and we can’t see many places that are nearby. We try to pay for the park which is only 5euro for the night including power but our card is playing silly buggars and it won’t work and there is nowhere for cash. If anyone comes to check we will just tell them what happened and pay them cash but by morning no one has worried us so we head off to our next destination.
We have found a little spot that is on the north coast of the large land peninsula of France we are on so we head north and a little to the east. We come across the little town of Saint Cast le Guildo which again looks like a very cute town. The camperstop happens to be a carpark that is right at the end of the town overlooking the marina. We start to drive down towards it but come across a barrier that is only 2.6m which we can’t quite get under so we have to find another way. Google maps tell me the only other road going there is a one way road heading away from the carpark towards where we are trying to drive to it. However in our tripping around the streets to try to find a way, I see other cars heading down this supposed one way road, the wrong way according to Google. So buggar it, we head down it too and find it is ok and not one way and we eventually reach the carpark. I also send Google maps a note to change the road direction to two way. We park up along with a couple of other vans and head down the road towards the marina to see what is around. There is a lovely boardwalk that heads right into the heart of the town and towards the lovely beach they have. Along the boardwalk there are several restaurants but not many are open at this time of the year.
There are a few people out walking the boardwalk and we join them for a bit and then decide to head back and have a drink at one open restaurant before heading back to the van for the night. The prices aren’t too bad and we sit and plan our next days travel and see where we should stop. We aren’t far from St Malo and as we suss out the map I spy Mont Saint Michel which I have heard of but have never seen. It is where an 11th century Romanesque Abbey has been built and it apparently has the highest tides in Europe. The abbey has been built on a very tiny island off the mainland to which they have now built a road out, however the road can get cut off at high tide and people stupidly try to walk around the outside of the island in the very quicksand like sand and some have been drowned because of the fast rising tide and they can’t get out of the sand.
25 February 2016
Anyway we left Saint Cast Le Guildo early the next morning and drive the short distance to Mont Saint Michel and know we really only have about 3 hours to look around and we will then have to leave and drive to a camper stop for the night. The parking for Mont Saint Michel is quite a few kms away and is quite expensive but they have free shuttles out to the island and you don’t have to pay to walk around the whole island village just the Abbey. So we park up and walk to the shuttle which is really well organised. It only takes a few minutes before one arrives and we are off to the island. It really is quite a spectacular sight seeing the Abbey high on the hill of the island in the distance, it really stands out. No wonder it is touted to be the most visited tourist attraction in France even though I am not sure it would beat the Eiffel tower. We get off the shuttle and head into the little island village. It is quaint and quite amazing. It is gated off so if the gates are closed you couldn’t get in as it as high walls around the base of the whole island. We wander and decide to get to the abbey before the main crowds hit here this morning. The abbey is an amazing piece of architecture but inside there are no items at all. I keep saying to Scot that the monks didn’t have things so there wouldn’t have been rugs and paintings and furniture as they lived so frugally but I am not sure if this is the reason it is so stark and empty or someone snavelled all the items during the war or similar.
We ended up having a coffee at Mont Saint Michel before we left which was the worst most expensive coffee we have had in a while, but it had to be done. Since we are on a time frame we didn’t see everything but it was ok, we really needed to get up closer to where we are taking the ferry back to the UK. So we took the shuttle back to the carpark, paid their expensive fee and headed up north towards Caen. We mainly travelled on the highway as we needed a quick trip. I would love to spend a few months travelling around France, this country has such awesome history and the buildings are amazing. I had thought we would head to Blonville sur Mer where we stayed years ago as it was so amazing, but strangely as I perused the coastline looking for a memory of where we had stayed it didn’t seem right. It turns out that I had in my mind this cute town on the coast that we stayed in a pink painted b&b or hotel where we had a small balcony looking over where ferries came into a tiny port area. Down the road was the centre of the town with cute shops and cafes. But this picture was actually of Quiberon, not Blonville sur Mer so when we actually did visit there I was quite disappointed that we had missed a favourite place that I had remembered even though the name was wrong.
We ended up in a place called Houlgate which is near Deauville and Blonville sur Mer. The camperstop at this location was at a marina area right on the front of an inlet. At low tide the water went a long way out and you could get across to the other bank easily but the tide came in so fast it was quite frightening watching the speed. We stopped here the night along with several other vans after doing a small shop close by. We spied a laundrette which we will use tomorrow as they are rather few and far between. It was a quiet location until the morning when the fish shed nearby opened early to sell freshly caught seafood. The locals appeared to come in droves to buy their fish and mussels so we had a constant stream of cars coming and going. Scot figured that as the locals like it then it must be fresh so he buys a bag of mussels for tea that night. After getting up we walked along the waterfront into Houlgate town. It was a freezing morning and we had almost all our gear on – gloves, hats, scarves, warmest jackets etc and we still felt frozen as the wind cut through our clothes like knives. We had to stop in a café for a coffee just to get out of the wind and have something warm to calm the chill creeping in.
After coffee we decided to head back to the van and drive back to the laundrette and get our washing done. Its great when there are free machines and you don’t choke on the cost. Washing in and dried whilst reading our books and it was back to the van spot for the night. Unfortunately being a Saturday night a whole lot of other vans had taken most spots as there weren’t many and we thankfully got the final parking spot. I don’t quite know where we would have gone if it hadn’t been free as we weren’t ready to move on. We contemplated going back into town but decided it was really too cold and a night getting warm under covers with a hot water bottle in the van was the order of the evening.
Sunday 27th Feb
We wanted to check out Deauville again before leaving so we headed north along the coast. The scenery became familiar and we recognised places we had been years ago. It was a lovely sunny day but still quite cool in the breeze and there were heaps of people around. We drove along the main area and since it was close to lunchtime thought it might be nice if we treated ourselves to a lovely meal out as a farewell to France and our Europe trip. We drove around for a bit and because it was so nice and there were markets on, there were people everywhere. Parking was at a premium. There was a camperstop which I thought we may be able to stop for a couple of hours and even empty our toilet before moving on, but it was full, the vans parked only feet from each other where you could probably hear the conversation going on next door. We did empty our toilet and moved on to a paying carpark where there were spots.
The markets were just finishing up and people were packing all their stuff into vehicles. Everyone was now sitting in the many restaurants and cafes that dotted along the waterfront leaving not even one spare chair for us. It was packed and eventually daunted by the lack of vacancies(and to some extent the cost) and the likelihood of food taking forever to come we headed back to the van and possibly our own home made lunch. Perhaps that was more of a tribute to our travelling than a café meal since it represented almost all our lunchtime eating. Walking along past the market stalls we are always horrified at the amount of rubbish that gets left behind. The market being on the waterfront was allowing heaps of plastic rubbish to be blown over into the waterway. We hate seeing this as there is no need for it if everyone takes all their own rubbish from their stall home, but these people don’t care, just like most country markets we have seen over the year.
Back in the van, we thought maybe we head back to Houlgate and the little coffee shop we had been the day before – perhaps they make nice food. We head there and find a park which nearly stops the traffic in the street as it is terribly narrow. We make sure a few cars and a bigger van can pass by and we walk down to the main street. The little café is still open but food is off, buggar, it just isn’t our day for spending money on lunch, so we do have coffee and head back to the van. You know it was about 5 weeks ago and I just can’t remember what we ended up doing, but most likely it was a couple of pieces of fruit as we headed for the camperstop out at the port from Caen which is called Ouistream. We passed a few of the historical war memorials(part of the major invasion area for 1943 D-Day and Pegasus Bridge which he is reading the history of) which Scot wants to go back and spend time at down the track although if we are truthfull, there are so many places we want to go back to and just see a bit more of I think we need another 2 years in the van to see them all for a reasonable amount of time……anyone want to help fund another adventure for us???
We arrive at the port camperstop and there are a few vans there and a ferry is just leaving so I race out to take some photos but it is still freezing in the wind here so I don’t stop long. We try to pay for the stop but the machine is broken along with all the facilities. I figure everyone must be getting on the ferry early in the morning being parked up here, but I find out I am wrong as we seem to be the only one who does leave. This is a great place to leave France and get back to England as there are no refugees here and Calais where we came into has the refugee camp being broken up so there is chaos there. We have read that most people are avoiding going via Calais because of the new problems that are now presenting themselves there. Ouistream is small, easy to find your way and still quite cheap to get back.
Monday 29 Feb 2016
Up at about 6.30am, it is still dark but I want to be lined up well before we need to leave so there isn’t anyway we can miss the ferry. A quick cup of tea and brekky and we head the short distance to the port. They are really lovely here, no nasty Greek style treatment, although I should think they could justify a search and more checks than they do. Checking in is a breeze and we are lined up ready to leave. Thankfully the wind has eased so the sea won’t be as rough as it has been on some crossings lately. 8.30 and we are loaded, plugged into electricity which they go out of their way to help us with, and up on board sadly saying goodbye to France and the last of our European adventure. There are mixed feelings and I am sad that this part has finished, but also excited by the housesits we have managed to get already in England which will see us out of the van for a bit and in a normal bed and house. There is also a part of me that is fully daunted by what we will now have to do and workout as we look to live and work over here for whatever time we wish to stay. Decisions have to be made and once made all the work that goes along with them.
This ferry is one of the best ones we have been on. The staff are really lovely, the food good, prices acceptable for a ferry and facilities clean. We are impressed after the dreadful experience of Grimaldi line trips in southern Europe. The ferry takes about 6 hours to get back to the UK and we find ourselves backing into port in Portsmouth in no time after passing by the Isle of Wight. Portsmouth looks great and we pass navy ships and base facilities. Back down to the van and we unhook the electricity and prepare to disembark.